That assumes, of course, that they take care of business the rest of the way. After trips to Notre Dame and San Diego State, the Utes welcome BYU to Rice-Eccles Stadium. True Cougars fans will be pulling for the Utes this Saturday, in hopes of reserving for themselves the pleasure of ruining Utah's perfect season.
There was high drama the last time the Cougars and the Utes met—both during and after the game. Last year, after tossing the game-winning touchdown pass in overtime to beat Utah 26--23, BYU quarterback Max Hall spoke from his heart about his feelings for the Utes.
"I don't like Utah," he said. "In fact I hate them. I hate everything about them. I hate their program, their fans.... I think the whole university and their fans and their organization is classless."
At Rice-Eccles the previous season, Hall contended, Utah fans "threw beer on my family" and "did a whole bunch of nasty things.... They deserved to lose."
Utah fans got less upset about that rant than they did about a self-righteous pronouncement by Cougars receiver Austin Collie following BYU's last-minute 17--10 victory over the Utes in 2007. "When you're doing what's right, on and off the field," Collie proclaimed, "the Lord steps in and plays a part."
The fact that there were 27 returned LDS missionaries on the Utah roster probably didn't enter Collie's mind. But implicit in his remark—and this is the attitude that drives Utes (LDS Utes in particular) around the bend—is the belief that the Cougars and their fans are literally holier than thou. That, at least, is what Utah fans choose to infer. "But that's how you want a rivalry—you want it nasty," says Smithson.
But wait a minute. If Utah's coach is Mormon, if half his players are Mormon, doesn't that give them common cause with their rivals? Wouldn't that turn down the heat on the rivalry? "It cranks it up, actually," says Taylor, who isn't Mormon. Speaking for his LDS teammates, he explains that "it offends them that someone would think they're a better Mormon just because they go to a religious school."
"What ends up happening," says quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson, "is that it splits families."
It didn't split the Whittinghams, but it sure led to some lively discussions. Fretting over which team to coach, Kyle lost 11 pounds in five days. "He tried to want to go to BYU, he really did," recalls his mother, Nancy. "When he finally made up his mind, he came down to the Provo house the kids grew up in and gave us the news. And I said, 'O.K., we're Utes now.'"
It was that frigid vigil in the cemetery, Kyle acknowledges, that helped get him off the fence. At least twice a year the whole clan makes the drive up there. "It's a beautiful place," says Nancy. "Very peaceful and quiet."